A skeptical state lawmaker and the president of the University of Connecticut squared off Friday over the controversial system of "double-dipping" that uses short-term contracts to pay retired professors who are already receiving pensions.
In his first public comments to the legislature on the issue, President Michael Hogan defended the system, telling lawmakers that an estimated 300 to 350 employees who are receiving both payments are a small percentage of UConn's 10,000-employee workforce, and they are paid largely through research grants.
"The vast majority are making less than $10,000," Hogan said during a public hearing in front of the budget-writing appropriations committee. "None are being paid with state dollars."
Hogan never used the term "double-dipping" but instead referred to "the rehired retirees." He referred to "this issue - I don't even want to call it a problem."
But Rep. Patricia Dillon, a longtime committee member, was not buying that explanation about not using state dollars to pay the professors.
"The money is fungible," said Dillon, a New Haven Democrat.
"You can tell me it's not state money," she said. But "it's not persuasive."
Gov. M. Jodi Rell earlier this week limited practice for many state agencies and asked trustees at UConn and the Connecticut State University System to do the same.
But neither the legislature nor Rell has the authority to control specific line items in UConn's budget. Instead, the state provides a lump-sum subsidy each year, which currently represents about 35 percent of UConn's budget. Tuition and fees account for about 32 percent, and the rest is generated through grants and other revenues.
Dillon told Hogan that the story about the "double-dipping," published in last Sunday's Courant, generated "lots of excitement in New Haven," particularly among young professors who have not been granted tenure at various universities.
Many of them, Dillon said, are now working as adjuncts and often earning $5,500 per course with no benefits. She was surprised to learn that a professor, such as former UConn law school Dean Hugh Macgill, is currently earning $30,000 per year as a 120-day employee - teaching one class per semester.
"I would be able to put together a job bank of people for about a fifth of what we're paying now," Dillon told Hogan.
An investigation by The Courant showed that employees across state government have retired from their jobs and then returned under 120-day temporary contracts. Those earning the highest amounts in pensions and in wages when they return are from UConn and the UConn Health Center in Farmington.
One retired professor, Richard Kochanek, teaches two introductory accounting classes each semester and is paid $81,650 per year in salary and more than $174,000 in pension, according to public records.
Regarding the salary of more than $81,000, Hogan said, "That's what the market is" -- before adding that the market is even higher. UConn, he said, would need to spend $110,000 to hire an accounting professor as a replacement, and that professor would not teach the 800 students that Kochanek currently teaches.
Concerning Joseph Renzulli, who receives an annual pension of $162,000 and was paid about $138,000 as a 120-day professor last year, Hogan said he was "one of the most distinguished" professors in the country.
Dillon, who has taught as an adjunct at three different universities over a span of more than 20 years, said the level of wages at UConn isn't even close to those she has seen at other universities.
"What's fair?" Dillon asked. "Should we be drawing a pension and being paid $80,000 a year for one course? Hey, I'd do it."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun